SINGAPORE - Fans were packed along the railings of every floor at the Shoppes at the Marina Bay Sands to catch a glimpse of the WTA's best at Saturday's draw ceremony for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. And when the final chip was pulled from the Billie Jean King Trophy, No.1 Serena Williams saw herself faced with the task of taking on a line-up of the WTA's burgeoning stars as she goes for the three-peat at the tour's crown-jewel event.
Williams is looking to build on her 15-match winning streak at the WTA Finals, having won the event the last three times she has played it in 2009, 2012, and 2013. The top seed was drawn into the Red Group along with Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, and Ana Ivanovic. Serena will be facing two players she hasn't faced all year and one she's already played four times. With the dynamics of all four match-ups, the Red Group is the one to watch.
The beauty of the round robin format means we'll finally get a chance to see Serena take on Halep and Bouchard for the first time this season. Halep, the French Open finalist, and Bouchard, the Wimbledon finalist, are making their WTA Finals debuts, and while there's no such thing as an easy draw when a field only includes the top eight players, having to face Serena in group play is never an enviable task.
Said Bouchard: "I’m with the No.1 player in the world, the greatest player of all time, arguably, so it’s going to be exciting to get some good match ups.”
"I haven’t played Bouchard yet, and I think she’s been the most consistent in all the Grand Slams this year, so she’ll be a really tough match," Serena said. The US Open champion may be wary of her opposition, but she's already got her game face on. "I don’t care who I play, to be perfectly honest with you. You can put me against anybody at this point, I’m ready. I really can’t wait for my match. I wish I had a match tomorrow.”
While Serena hasn't faced either Halep or Bouchard in 2014, she knows Ivanovic well. The two have played each other four times this season, with Ivanovic winning at the Australian Open and Serena winning the next three. Ivanovic, back into the WTA Finals for the first time in six years, is the only woman in the draw who has beaten both Serena and No.2 seed Maria Sharapova this season.
While Serena faces the unknown in the Red Group, Maria Sharapova sees some familiar faces in the White Group. She's been drawn with Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Caroline Wozniacki.
Some of Sharapova's biggest wins and crushing losses have come to the women in her group. She finished her regular season with a hard-fought win over Kvitova to win the China Open, but was thoroughly outplayed by Wozniacki to lose in the fourth round of the US Open last month. Those two rematches will surely highlight the White Group.
"I’m quite happy with my group," Sharapova said. "I think every match will be a challenge. There are some players that I’ve lost to this year, and some players that I beat, so it’s a little bit of everything.”
WTAFinals.com contributor Courtney Nguyen is a freelance tennis writer based in Northern California. She is the blogger behind Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline and co-host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast.